The Tactical Traveler



This week: Airlines launch the fare sales and mileage promotions; Washington’s Reagan National reopens and curbside check-in resumes at most other airports; legislators are already beginning to regret the $5 billion airline bailout; new luxury hotels are opening, but without the hoopla; and Swissair and Ansett resume flying.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Tracking the Fare Sales and Bonus Offers
The nation’s major airlines opened the fare and mileage floodgates this week. Desperate to lure travelers back into the air, the airlines’ offers include advance purchase business-travel fares that don’t require a Saturday stay, bonus-miles offers, extension of some elite status and a fare sale for leisure travel. Here’s a quick look at what’s happening:
+ American and Alaska have announced that their elite frequent-flyer program members will automatically maintain their status through February, 2003.
+ Most major airlines have announced double-mile promotions for flights through November 15. Some are even permitting the double miles to count toward your elite status in 2002. However, all are requiring you register for the promotion.
+ United introduced two new fares that do not require a Saturday stay: a 10-day advance-purchase fare that’s 25 percent off full coach and a 21-day advance fare that is 50 percent off full-fare coach. The fares are valid until December 31. Most carriers matched United on routes where they compete.
+ Delta launched the long-awaited leisure-travel fare sale on Thursday morning. Here are the basics: Tickets must be purchased by Monday, but domestic travel is permitted until December 15 and as late as May for some international destinations. Sample fares: $398 roundtrip between Washington/Dulles and Honolulu and $238 between New York and Dallas. Most airlines are offering an additional 10 percent discount for tickets purchased at their proprietary websites.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Fare Sales at America’s Other Carriers
Southwest Airlines continues to run 100 percent of its pre-September 11 schedule and says it plans no changes through the end of the year. Meanwhile, it relaunched a fare sale offering many seats for $34-$89 one way. The three-day advance-purchase fares require a roundtrip purchase and must be purchased by October 11, but travel is valid until January 11. … AirTran has knocked up to 35 percent off its prices if you book seven days in advance. Tickets must be purchased by October 17 for travel by February 13. The fares are for one-way travel, do not require a Saturday stay, and are 5 percent cheaper if you buy at the AirTran website.

AIRPORT REPORT: News You Need to Know
Most airports around the nation have been cleared to resume curbside check-in. Check with your own carrier about specifics for your flight, however. … Reagan National in Washington has reopened. Special security rules apply--including a one carry-on limit--and the airport is operating at about a quarter of its former capacity. Most carriers were only cleared to offer flights to their major hubs. The US Airways and Delta shuttles to New York/LaGuardia and Boston/Logan resumed with a limited number of flights. … Speaking of Logan, acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift essentially fired the airport’s security chief on Wednesday and temporarily replaced him with the state’s top police officer. Joe Lawless, who had been running Logan’s security, was former governor William Weld’s chauffeur. Two of the planes hijacked on September 11 departed from Logan, which has been plagued by security breaches before and after the attacks.

BUYER’S REGRET: The Airlines Act Like Airlines
After rushing to hand the nation’s airlines $5 billion in tax dollars, U.S. politicians are beginning to realize that they were snookered. And they are shocked that airlines, when given the chance, are acting exactly like the airlines that business travelers have come to despise. Consider Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AK), who discovered that the airline cutbacks have basically wiped the Arkansas capital of Little Rock off the route map. “If I had known [they were] simply going to take the money, then announce they would no longer serve my constituents, I might have thought again about the vote I cast,” she admitted. Then there is Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who should know better since he sits on the House Aviation Subcommittee. He was enraged because United Airlines, while pleading poverty after September 11, nevertheless found millions to pay for French planes for its new corporate-jet subsidiary. "It's outrageous," he sputtered. "On the one hand they say they need an immediate cash infusion from the government, no strings attached, and on the other they are wiring money to France."

IN THE LOBBY: Luxury Hotels Open Quietly Now
In other times, the Wednesday opening of the Four Seasons San Francisco would have been cause for celebration and intense publicity. The 277-room property on Market Street marks the return of the Four Seasons brand--and legendary general manager Stan Bromley--to San Francisco. … Meanwhile, Ritz-Carlton has opened two properties this week. The 244-room hotel Ritz-Carlton Istanbul features a traditional Turkish steam room/spa. The 374-room Ritz-Carlton in Doha, Qatar, is adjacent to a water park and near a hotel-managed marina. … A 333-room J.W. Marriott has opened in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the Golden Business Triangle district.

NO LOSS: United Eliminates United Shuttle
No one questioned the fact that United has been the nation’s worst major carrier during the last 18 months. And no one questioned the fact that United Shuttle was the worst component of the nation’s worst airline. Yet United continued to defend the supposedly low-fare service and even made the outrageous claim that the creaky hybrid represented the future of the airline. So much for the future: United announced Wednesday that United Shuttle service will be eliminated on October 31.

TAX TALK: Who’s Paying What for the Airline Bailouts
Want to feel worse than you did last week when I told you that the $5 billion tax gift to the U.S. airlines will cost every American $17.85 a person? Consider this: Canadian authorities rebuffed Air Canada’s demand for a $2.6 billion dollar rescue packaged and this week granted just $103 million to all of the nation’s airlines. That’s only $3.32 for each of Canada’s 31 million citizens. On the other hand, the $280 million Swiss government rescue of Swissair (see below) represents a startling $37.33 from each of that country’s 7.5 million shell-shocked citizens.

WORLDWATCH: Bailouts and Failures
After a two-day shutdown, Swissair resumed limited flying on Thursday after an emergency government infusion of $280 million. By the end of the month, however, most of the carrier’s routes will probably be transferred to Crossair, Swissair’s former subsidiary. Swissair claims it ran out of cash after September 11, but the airline’s primary problems stemmed from a spectacularly misguided expansion plan during the last five years. … Sabena has continued flying this week even though it declared the Belgian form of bankruptcy. Sabena’s woes are partially tied to Swissair (the Swiss carrier is a large stakeholder), but the Belgian carrier has only registered one profitable year in the last 30 years. … Down Under, Ansett Australia resumed some flying last week after collapsing into bankruptcy last month. That bankruptcy was blamed on mismanagement by its parent company, Air New Zealand, which itself was taken over by the New Zealand government on Wednesday.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.